UCSB stunned by Sacramento State as Gauchos’ record-breaking season ends abruptly at Stanford Regional
STANFORD — Thomas Rowan could barely get words out. Andrew Checketts was stunned.
The season was over.
Check that — the record-breaking season was over.
Only days removed from winning the first Big West Conference title in 33 years and setting the school mark for Div. I wins, the UCSB baseball team exited the NCAA Tournament after a stunning 6-4 regional loss to Sacramento State at Klein Field at Sunken Diamond Saturday afternoon.
“Obviously we didn’t play the way we did during the year, we had a heckuva team,” said Checketts, UCSB’s eight-year head coach. “I’m proud of these guys, they did a lot of first things for our program. They represented our program with class and dignity.
“Obviously disappointed it ended like this, this quick.”
After going down 4-0 through three innings, UCSB battled back, eventually tying it in the top of the eighth inning after pinch-hitter Christian Kirtley doubled and eventually scored with two outs on a passed ball, seemingly swinging the momentum to the Gaucho dugout.
“It almost seemed like another life,” Kirtley said.
The Gaucho bullpen couldn’t make it stand up, with Shea Barry giving up a leadoff single to Steven Moretto, only to get the next two outs on a popup and strikeout. He’d walk Dylan McPhillips to put a runner in scoring position, leading Checketts to call on flame-thrower closer Chris Lincoln to face the Hornets’ No. 9 hitter, Trevor Doyle, who was hitting under .220 entering the game.
Lincoln worked the count to 1-1, but Doyle pounded the third pitch into the right-centerfield gap to score both runners.
“Wish I could get that one back, obviously didn’t work out the way that we wanted it to,” Checketts said. “He had been our closer all year, felt like it was the moment of truth.”
Doyle’s approach was simple: make contact.
“All I’m trying to do up there is get the barrel on the ball and do my job,” Doyle said.
Sacramento State coach Reggie Christiansen admitted to his blood pressure rising throughout the game.
“These guys call themselves the heart-attack Hornets and a couple times over the course of the game today, felt like I certainly had a couple heart attacks,” said Christiansen, whose team picked up their 40th win. “But this is a special one by a special group of kids that fought all game.”
The Gauchos went in order in the top of the ninth, including Rowan, who choked back tears as the finality of the moment continued to set in. As a senior, this was Rowan’s final game in a Gaucho uniform.
“We won 45 games for a reason . . . Almost got it.”
UCSB’s surprising 0-2 showing in Palo Alto featured uncharacteristic subpar starting pitching, as southpaw Jack Dashwood was ineffective over 32/3 innings, giving up four earned runs on eight hits in his second-shortest outing of the season.
This came a day after Ben Brecht only lasted 11/3 innings against Fresno State, also giving up four earned runs and seven overall.
The Gaucho offense showed a bit more life Saturday, although it did leave five men in scoring position against Sacramento State, including two in a key rally in the sixth inning.
After converted closer Tanner Dalton exited giving up just one run over five innings, Sacramento State handed the ball to Stone Churby.
Rowan opened with a walk and promptly moved to third on Armani Smith’s double down the left-field line. Tommy Jew followed with an infield single to third — only to break his leg in a collision at the first-base bag. The stadium was eerily silent for more than 10 minutes as the medical staff tended to Jew, who was eventually carted off, visibly dazed and in immense pain.
“We were definitely fighting our emotions at that point,” Smith said.
UCSB would plate two runs after the injury on a Marcos Castanon sacrifice fly and Tevin Mitchell hit by pitch, but pop-ups by McClain O’Connor and Andrew Martinez ended the rally.
“Tommy has been one of the leaders, a guy that’s been here a long time, one they look up to,” Checketts said.
Emotions continued to run high after the game, with players spending nearly 20 minutes giving hugs, with tears flowing from many. While not the ending the team wanted, Checketts was sure to put things in perspective — reflecting on a 45-win campaign that saw many individual and team school records fall.
“I told the guys after the game, ‘Don’t hang your head, this will go down as one of the best Gaucho teams in history.'”